Working mom with baby in a lap
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Working mom with baby in a lap
StockRocket/istockphoto

Pursuit of Equality

The election of Kamala Harris as the nation’s first female vice president is inspirational, but the opportunities Harris seized upon to climb the ladder are not distributed equally to women throughout the United States, according to Georgetown University’s first U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index. “The state in which a woman lives determines, among other things, a woman’s ability to file a workplace sexual harassment claim, her level of protection from an abusive partner, and whether she can take time off for caregiving,” says Jeni Klugman, lead author of the report. Here’s a state-by-state look at the status of women, from lowest-ranked (closest to a zero) to highest-ranked based (closest to 1).

Related: 11 Careers Where Women are Paid More than Men

New Orleans
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Worst: Louisiana

Score: 0.167
Nearly half of men here believe it’s best for them to be the breadwinner while women stay home. Louisiana is one of six states that scored zero on key legal protections for women, meaning there are significant formalized barriers to equality for women — for example, the state does not take guns from domestic abusers under restraining orders. Louisiana’s maternal mortality rate is as high as Libya’s, making it the highest in the United States at 72 deaths per 100,000 live births. And nearly 1 in 5 women, and 45% of female-headed households, live in poverty, compared with 12% nationally.

Mississippi State Capitol, Jackson, Mississippi
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Mississippi

Score: 0.182
Mississippi is among the lowest three states in the nation for inclusion and justice, and is the lowest for women’s security. About eight women per 100,000 die from gun-related homicides or suicides, the second-highest rate after Wyoming. Additional bleak statistics: 1 in 5 women were unable to afford a doctor’s visit over the past 12 months; and the state’s share of working women in poverty is second-highest in the country.

Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, Arkansas
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Arkansas

Score: 0.231

Arkansas has the second-lowest rate of college completion among women, at 24%; for black women that number is even more dismal, 19%. It’s another state where nearly half of men say it’s best for women to stay home, “reflecting deeply entrenched patriarchal values that restrict women’s empowerment,” the report says. Health care is a challenge — 17% of Arkansas women reported not being able to see a doctor during the past year because of cost. Teen pregnancy rates are the highest in the country at 33 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, on par with Mongolia and Morocco.

Related: How to Protect Yourself From 10 Top Causes Of Death For Women

Huntsville, Alabama
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Alabama

Score: 0.238
The state does little to protect women from violence, scoring zero across the board in areas such as stopping sexual harassment and failing to take guns from abusers under restraining orders. It doesn’t guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and has no mandated paid parental leave. Alabama is one of the worst states for a sense of well-being and security: Nearly 60% of women are afraid to walk alone at night in their own neighborhood, compared with around 25% of men. And it’s one of seven states where fewer than 1 in 5 state legislators are women.

Kentucky
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Kentucky

Score: 0.277
One of six states scoring zero for legal protections for women. That means, among other things, the state has no laws to protect workers from sexual harassment; does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders; does not mandate paid parental leave; and does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Nearly two-thirds of women are afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood, as opposed to a little more than 20% of men.

Charleston, West Virginia
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West Virginia

Score: 0.294

A mere 13% of the state legislature is female, on par with the country of Burkina Faso, and West Virginia has the lowest employment rate for women, just 36%. (It’s among the three worst-performing states for inclusion, with Mississippi and Louisiana.) It scores dismally in justice rankings, specifically for legal protections for women, including having no sexual harassment laws, not taking guns from abusers under restraining orders, and not guaranteeing unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. On the bright side, West Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Related: 21 Ways to Cope With Long-Term Unemployment

Nashville, Tennessee
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Tennessee

Score: 0.299
Fifty-nine percent of women are afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods at night, compared with 23% of men, and Tennessee has no laws protecting workers from sexual harassment no matter company size and does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. There is no mandated parental leave, and it’s among seven states where fewer than 1 in 5 legislators are women.

Charleston, SC
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South Carolina

Score: 0.304
South Carolina scores poorly across the board for legal protections, with no laws protecting workers from sexual harassment no matter company size, no taking of guns from abusers under restraining orders, and no guaranteed unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. There’s no mandated paid parental leave, and South Carolina has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Political representation is minimal — only 16% of the state legislature is women.

Sheridan, Wyoming
Sheridan, Wyoming by Atkach24 (CC BY)

Wyoming

Score: 0.308
Wyoming stands out as having the highest level of gun violence against women, at almost nine gun-related deaths per 100,000 women. Fewer than 1 in 20 women live in a county with an abortion provider, and fewer than 1 in 5 state legislators are women. What’s more, the state offers women few legal protections. But it has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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Oklahoma

Score: 0.339
There’s no requirement that abusers under restraining orders give up their guns; nor are there guarantees of unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; there’s no mandated paid parental leave; and the Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified. Women in the state experience somewhat less security than many other places — there’s about five gun-related deaths per 100,000 women in Oklahoma, above the national average of three.

Dallas
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Texas

Score: 0.355
Nearly half of men in the Lone Star State believe it’s best for men to be the breadwinner while women stay home, and Texas has one of the highest rates of unemployment among black women — 57% as of 2018. It has one of the worst U.S. maternal mortality rates, and 20% of women report not seeing a doctor during the past year because of cost. There’s no protection for workers from sexual harassment, and the state does not take guns from abusers under a restraining order. There is no mandated paid parental leave.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
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New Mexico

Score: 0.365
New Mexico has one of the lowest employment rates for women, just 38%, tying with Idaho and Utah. (The only state with a lower employment rate is West Virginia at 36%.) There are no laws protecting workers from sexual harassment, and abusers under restraining orders are not required to give up their guns. In addition, there’s no mandated paid parental leave. But the state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and guarantees unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Idaho
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Idaho

Score: 0.371
Idaho is among states (with Arizona and Arkansas) where at least 1 in 3 men believe it is better for men to be the breadwinner while women stay home. Legal protections for women in Idaho are minimal: Though the state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, it lacks legal protections against sexual harassment and doesn’t take away guns from abusers under restraining orders. There is no mandated paid parental leave.

St. Louis
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Missouri

Score: 0.381

Missouri is one of six states scoring zero for legal protections for women, along with Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Utah, where abusers under restraining orders are not required to give up their guns; also, the state doesn’t protect all workers from sexual harassment; there are no guaranteed unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and no mandated paid parental leave. It is one of eight states where fewer than 1 in 4 women live in a county with an abortion provider; the state also requires in-person counseling before abortions.

Related: How PTSD Affects Vets, First Responders, Moms, and Others

Atlanta
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Georgia

Score: 0.382
One in five women report not being able to see a doctor in the past 12 months because of cost, among the worst U.S. rates, and the state is among the worst for maternal mortality rates. (Among black women, Georgia has the second-highest maternal mortality rate at 66 deaths per 100,000 live births, second only to Louisiana at 72.) Legal protections for women are dismal at best. Georgia scores a near zero across the board, with the exception of having ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and allowing women to have an abortion without state-mandated in-person counseling.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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Utah

Score: 0.400
Utah is among six states scoring zero for legal protections for women. And while every other state has greater shares of men than women employed, Utah has the distinction of having the largest gender employment gap in America — on par with Kuwait. There’s a difference of 26 percentage points between the share of men and women employed in the state, with just 38% of women employed.

Reno Nevada
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Nevada

Score: 0.432
Nevada is a mixed bag for women. It’s one of the 15 best states for inclusion, but among the worst five for security. In 2019, it became the only state legislature where women had equal representation. Yet Nevada has one of the worst rates for intimate partner violence (8.7% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner) and for gun deaths (about six women per 100,000).

Indiana
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Indiana

Score: 0.435
Indiana has one of the worst U.S. maternal mortality rates, at 50 deaths per 100,000 live births, behind only Louisiana and Georgia, and offers little in legal protections. It has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, but scores zero on every other legal measure. The state does not protect workers from sexual harassment no matter the size of employer; does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders; does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and there’s no mandated paid parental leave.

Raleigh, North Carolina
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North Carolina

Score: 0.446
More than 30% of Hispanic women in North Carolina report not being able to visit a doctor over the past year because of cost. There’s limited legal protections for women. Though the state does not require in-person counseling before abortions, it also has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and does not offer any legal protections measured by the study. Gun-related deaths among women is about four per 100,000, putting it above the national average of three.

Montana
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Montana

Score: 0.446
For Native American women in particular, health issues here are grim: Maternal mortality rates average 167 deaths per 100,000 live births, seven times higher than the rate for white women in the state and about six times the national average. That makes it similar to the war-ravaged nation of Yemen, and worse than Botswana and India. The state has several legal protections in place for women, among them protections from workplace sexual harassment no matter the size of the employer, and it guarantees unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and allows women to have an abortion without in-person counseling.

Arizona
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Arizona

Score: 0.453
In Arizona, about 1 in 3 men believe women should tend to the home. What’s more, the state offers little in the way of legal justice or protections for women, scoring zero nearly across the board. State law sets the minimum wage above the low-income threshold of $12 per hour, which is considered part of economic autonomy for women, but the state has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Today
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Florida

Score: 0.461

With the exception of not requiring in-person counseling before abortions, Florida scores zero on legal protections for women. It has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and has none of the other legal protections in place measured by the study, such as protecting workers from sexual harassment no matter the size of the employer, or taking guns from abusers under restraining orders. There is no mandated paid parental leave. The state is close to the national averages on many measures around inclusion and security.

Related: 10 Ways the Pandemic Is Hurting Women

Rapids City, South Dakota
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South Dakota

Score: 0.469
South Dakota is another state scoring zero nearly across the board on legal protections for women. While it has laws in place to protect workers from sexual harassment no matter the size of the employer, it has none of the other laws or protections considered important by the study, such as taking guns from abusers under restraining orders or mandating paid parental leave. About 23% of the seats in the state’s legislature are held by women, putting it below the national average of 30%; and about 30% of women 25 and older hold a college degree, compared with 33% nationally.

Anchorage, Alaska
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Alaska

Score: 0.482
Alaska has the lowest U.S. maternal mortality rate at 12 deaths per 100,000 live births — on par with such countries as Hungary and South Korea. The state has the highest rates of contraceptive use, which is believed to contribute to the low maternal mortality rate, and is among 17 states with laws to protect workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size. Still, Alaska does not require domestic abusers with restraining orders to give up their guns, and it does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. In addition, there’s no mandated paid parental leave. The state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Richmond, Virginia
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Virginia

Score: 0.485
Virginia is one of eight states where fewer than 1 in 4 women live in a county with an abortion provider. The state has few legal protections in place, including lacking laws to protect all workers from sexual harassment no matter the size of the employer. It does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders, and does not mandate paid parental leave. The state has however, ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Kansas City, Missouri
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Kansas

Score: 0.485
With just two exceptions, Kansas scored zero in every measure of legal protections for women. The state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and does not require women to go through in-person counseling before abortions. But it is at or slightly below average on inclusion including in the legislature, which is 28% female, just under the national average of 30%.

Ohio
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Ohio

Score: 0.506
Ohio ranks particularly poorly on inclusion for black women — just 18% have completed college, the lowest rate in the country. (Though the same holds true in Wisconsin). Other than ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, Ohio has none of the other laws and protections deemed important by the study. The state is among those recently restricting women’s access to reproductive health care, enacting abortion bans beginning at six weeks of gestation, before many women are aware they are pregnant. About four women per 100,000 die from gun-related homicides or suicides; the national average is slightly more than three.

Seattle
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Washington

Score: 0.520
Washington is among a handful of states, with Oregon and Vermont, where the share of women in the legislature is at least 40%. It is one of eight states granting leave to new parents, with at least 90% of pay. The state is a mixed bag on legal protections, having ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and not requiring in-person counseling before abortions. But it does not provide protection to all workers from sexual harassment no matter company size; does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders; and does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Des Moines, Iowa
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Iowa

Score: 0.521
Other than ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, Iowa scored zero on legal protections for women. Just 30% of its legislature is made up of women and 30% of women in the state have a college degree, lower than the national average of 33%. When it comes to security, about 8% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the past 12 months, above the national average of 6.9%.

Delaware
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Delaware

Score: 0.524
Delaware offers only one measure of legal protection for women out of those covered by the study: It does not require in-person counseling before abortions. Meanwhile, just 24% of the state legislature is made up of women, compared with 30% nationally and security is not ideal for women in the state — almost 8% experienced physical or sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner, toward the upper end of the spectrum nationally. But employment of women is higher than the national average, at 44% (the national average is 42%).

Detroit
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Michigan

Score: 0.527
Only about 45% of black women in Michigan are employed, one of the lowest U.S. rates for black women. In employment overall, 39% of women in the state have full-time work, well below the national average of 42%. Michigan faces challenges with regard to the 6.1% of women who worked 27 weeks or more but are still in poverty. And though the state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and does not require in-person counseling before abortions, it does not mandate paid parental leave; guarantee unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; or take guns from abusers under restraining orders.

North Dakota
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North Dakota

Score: 0.529
While North Dakota has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and allows abortions without in-person counseling, it falls short on legal measures that allow for economic autonomy, scoring zero. It earns just one point for legal measures that protect women from violence: The state protects workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size. Just 22% of the state legislature is made up of women, well below the national average of 30% and less than half that of the leading state in the study, Colorado, where women make up 46%. Some 7.8% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner, well above the the 6.9% national average.

Nebraska
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Nebraska

Score: 0.537
Nebraska is among the states with the highest rate of employment for black women, at 58%. Overall, 47% of women in Nebraska are employed, well above the national average of 42%. In addition, 34% of women in the state have a college degree, a hair above the national average of 33%. About 29% of the state’s legislature is made up of women, a hair below the national average of 30%. The state scores for allowing abortions without in-person counseling, but has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and lacks other legal measures considered important to protect women from violence, ensure economic autonomy, or reproductive Health care access.

Portland, Oregon
halbergman/istockphoto

Oregon

Score: 0.541

Oregon has made progress on a number of fronts, including having strong legal protections for women, but falls short by not setting the minimum wage above the low-income threshold of $12 per hour. Still, it’s one of three states where at least 40% of the legislature is made up of women, and is one of eight states where new parents are paid at least 90% of their salary while on (12 weeks of) leave.

Related: The Best and Worst States for Middle-Class Taxpayers

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Pennsylvania

Score: 0.545
Pennsylvania offers a fairly average standard of living for women. Just 15% of men believe a woman’s place is in the home; about 42% of women in the state are employed, putting Pennsylvania right on par with the national average; and 32% of women have a college degree, close to the national average of 33%. The state’s legislature is 26% female, slightly behind the national average of 30%. While it has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and does not require in-person counseling before an abortion, Pennsylvania does not offer protection from sexual harassment regardless of company size, and does not mandate paid parental leave.

Madison, Wisconsin
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Wisconsin

Score: 0.559

Wisconsin provides some bleak statistics, particularly for black women — just 18% have completed college, the lowest rate in the nation. On the other hand, Wisconsin is one of 17 states with laws protecting workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size. The state takes guns from abusers under restraining orders, and has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. But it does not guarantee unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and it does not mandate paid parental leave.

Related: Where to Donate for Racial Justice in Your State

San Francisco
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California

Score: 0.564
California, Harris’ home state, does among the best on reproductive health care, with 19 in 20 women in the state living in a county with an abortion provider (compared with lowest-ranking Wyoming, where fewer than 1 in 20 women live in a county with an abortion provider). It’s also among the leaders in extending protections and expanding opportunities to women, as well as supporting gender equality. California is among 33 states that has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and is among a handful requiring workplace training against sexual harassment, mandating it for companies with at least five people.

Denver
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Colorado

Score: 0.565
Among the best for legal protections of women’s rights and inclusion, Colorado scores among the top nationally for such things as employment of women, college degrees among women (43%), and smallest percentage of women considered the working poor. It’s also approaching parity in its legislature, at 46% female in 2019.

Chicago
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Illinois

Score: 0.602
In one of the 12 leading states in the study’s “justice” categories, 63% of women live in a county with a clinic providing abortion services and there’s 21 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with a national maternal mortality rate of about 29. The state scores solid marks by protecting workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size; taking guns from abusers under restraining orders; and guaranteeing unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Minneapolis
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Minnesota

Score: 0.606
Minnesota is one of 11 states scoring at the top for all three key categories in the study — inclusion, justice, and security. Overall it scores well on such things as educational attainment among women (38% of women in the state have a college degree, compared with 33% nationally) and the state has low female deaths related to gun violence (less than one per 100,000).

Jersey City, New Jersey
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New Jersey

Score: 0.607
New Jersey does fairly well on inclusion but falters in maternal mortality rates, being fourth-worst among states at about 46 deaths per 100,000 live births. For black women in New Jersey, the picture is even grimmer: 132 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly quadruple the rate of white women and 4.4 times the national average. (New Jersey’s rate is similar to that in Venezuela, and worse than Iraq and Nicaragua.) Meanwhile, just 15% of men in New Jersey believe a woman’s place is in the home, putting the state in the top three with New York and Pennsylvania.

Hawaii
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Hawaii

Score: 0.626
About 19 in 20 Hawaiian women live in a county with an abortion provider, and the state scores among the top for inclusion and security, with only 3% of working women living in poverty. The state has implemented sexual harassment protections for workers regardless of company size; it takes guns from abusers under restraining orders; and guarantees unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Portland, Maine
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Maine

Score: 0.632
Maine scores for implementing sexual harassment protections for all workers regardless of company size; allowing abortions without in-person counseling; and for having ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. It does not, however, take guns from abusers under restraining orders or guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. A significant 38% of the state’s legislature are women, putting it well above the national average of 30%, while nearly 33% of women in the state have a college degree, on par with the national average. There are about 24 deaths per 100,000 live births, better than the national average of 30.

New York, New York
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New York

Score: 0.634
New York has legal protections for women related to violence, economic autonomy, and reproductive health, and measures to protect workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size; it has mandated paid parental leave; and has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. But the state does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders or guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Thirty-eight percent of women have college degrees, well above the national average of 33%, and about 32% of the state legislature is made up of women, ahead of the national average of 30%.

Baltimore, Maryland
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Maryland

Score: 0.639
Maryland leads in employment of women (49%) and of black women (highest in the country at 59%), and the share of women working and in poverty is among the lowest (around 3%). The state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and does not require in-person counseling before an abortion. It takes guns from abusers under a restraining order but does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and does not have measures in place protecting all workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size. It also does not provide mandated paid parental leave.

New Hampshire
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New Hampshire

Score: 0.652
New Hampshire takes guns from abusers under restraining orders; doesn’t require in-person counseling before abortions; and just 3% of working women are in poverty. It’s among the 33 states that’s ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Rhode Island
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Rhode Island

Score: 0.679
Rhode Island has the lowest incidence of intimate partner violence but has not implemented sexual harassment protections for workers regardless of company size, does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders, and does not guarantee unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Still, it’s among the eight states and the District of Columbia with laws providing paid leave to new parents — four weeks of it in which parents get about 60% of their average weekly earnings. Rhode Island has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment and does not require in-person counseling before abortions

Burlington, Vermont
DenisTangneyJr/istockphoto

Vermont

Score: 0.691

Among the best on community safety, and with laws protecting workers from sexual harassment regardless of company size and guaranteeing unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Vermont has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, does not require in-person counseling before abortions, and is one of only three states where women are at least 40% of the legislature. But the state still does not have mandated paid parental leave and does not take guns from abusers under restraining orders.

Related: The 20 Safest Big Cities in the U.S.

Washington, D.C.
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District of Columbia

Score: 0.695
The nation’s capital ranks well in the study. It’s the top scorer for inclusion, with the highest rates of female employment nationally at 57%, and college completion at 58%. Additional highlights for D.C. women include widespread access to health care — less than 10% of women reported not visiting a doctor in the past year because they could not afford it, and it’s the only place in the country where all women live in near an abortion provider (though in an area much smaller than any state).

Connecticut
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Connecticut

Score: 0.696
Connecticut highlights include having the fourth-lowest percentage of working women in poverty — in fact, women working full time in Connecticut earn slightly more on average than men — and among the most affordable health care. Maternal health rates are among the top 10, and 95% of women live in a county with an abortion provider. When asked why they think the state did so well in this study, 27% of respondents suggested it might have something to do with state politics “being conducive to women’s rights”: More than half of Connecticut’s high-level officials and administrators are women, ahead of the national average of 44%.

Boston
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Best: Massachusetts

Score: 0.709

The Bay State is the place to be. It leads in inclusion, justice, and security categories. It’s among the top five states for women’s access to affordable health care, and maternal mortality rates are about 14 deaths per 100,000 live births, the second-best in the country. Less than one woman per every 100,000 dies from gun violence. And with so many institutions of higher learning, of course Massachusetts is among the top five states for women completing college. Residents, asked why the state is so good for women, said there were “many women in government at both state and local levels,” did community outreach in more disadvantaged areas, and, with “some of the best universities and hospitals in the world, women have opportunities that others may not have.”

Related: 11 Careers Where Women are Paid More than Men